A plethora of planes descended onto the tarmac of the Hillsdale Municipal Airport Sunday for the airport’s annual fly-in breakfast.
The 3rd annual fly-in included various fundraisers for local service clubs, a classic car show, and vintage plane rides. All of this was completed with breakfast and lunch for pilots, hungry after a bit of flight time.
Fly-ins have a long history at Hillsdale’s airport, but the event was changed a few years ago to coincide with Patriot’s Day. Airport Manager Ginger Moore said she has been going to fly-ins for years, even remembering when the airport opened in 1963.
“It’s been going forever,” Moore said. “This is the third annual Patriot’s Day fly-in, but the fly-ins have been going on since I was a kid.”
The National Exchange Club of Hillsdale County sponsored the breakfast, which serves as a fundraiser for the various causes the club supports.
“It’s operational money,” past president and Exchange Club fly-in manager, Jason Walters said. “It’s also money that we use to fund all of the sponsorships that we do through the year. We spend a lot of money on CAPA, the Child Abuse Prevention Association. We do student of the month, college sponsorships. We donated the water fountain out at the Field of Dreams.”
The Exchange Club decided to move the fly-in to Patriot’s Day in order to attract more planes to the event.
“There were other fly-ins and air shows that were close to us that same weekend,” Walters said. “It was negatively effecting how many planes would come.”
The club chose Patriot’s Day weekend because it was a weekend with no competing fly-ins or other related events. When the fly-in moved, it took on a military theme, which allowed the event to grow and evolve.
“The move really inspired more things,” Walters said. “The American Legion then wanted to be a part of it. The National Guard wanted to come out and bring either their Blackhawk, or one year they had the Chinook helicopter. The C‑47 from the Yankee Air Museum got in on it. They do rides in addition to the display. Changing it to a military themed fly-in has really made the fly-in evolve into something bigger than just a breakfast.”
The Exchange Club funded a display of white crosses, each with the name of a Hillsdale County resident who served in the military and passed away.
The Jonesville American Legion also raised money at the fly-in, selling raffle tickets to benefit the number of organizations they support, including Girls and Boys State and the Student Trooper program.
“We sent three boys and two girls to Boys and Girls State, as well as one boy to the state trooper program,” post Adjutant Gerald Arno said. “We also do funerals; give veterans their last rites. We’ve been doing about 25 of those a year.”
Yankee Air Museum pilots flew down the museum’s Douglas C‑47 Skytrain. The C‑47 is a derivative of the Douglas DC3. The plane’s pilot, Howard Rundell, has been flying with the museum for 11 years.
“The DC3 came out in 1935 and completely revolutionized the airline industry,” Rundell said. “It was revolutionary in every sense, design, materials, construction, comfort, safety, speed, fuel efficiency. When the war threatened, the government bought thousands of these airplanes.”
The C‑47 at the fly-in, the “Hairless Joe”, was built and delivered to the Army Air Corps in 1945. The “Hairless Joe” never left the United States, so it is technically not classified as a war bird.
“It flew in the Army Air Corps and then flew in the Air Force until 1962,” Rundell said. “Sometime after that, the University of Michigan got the airplane. They used it and modified it for airplane research and started developing radar and other systems for the government.”
The Yankee Air Museum acquired the airplane in the early 1980s and restored it. The museum has been flying the airplane to different events since 1984.
“It’s a real privilege to fly the airplane,” Rundell said. “All the pilots are volunteers. The DC3 C‑47 is on every pilot’s bucket list. We want to fly it. So I’m privileged to have had a chance to fly this airplane.”
Private pilots flew in from around Michigan for the event. Private pilot Doug Neff of Pontiac, Michigan came for lunch.
“During the fall and summer, we fly to a lot of fly-in breakfasts and lunches,” Neff said. “We were in Fowlerville for breakfast and then flew here.”
Neff bought his 1967 Cessna 182 four years ago this October. He got his private pilots license six years ago. Neff said he wished more people would get involved with flying.
“It’s just a fun thing to do,” Neff said. “I wish more people, more young people especially, would get involved. There’s a shortage of commercial pilots right now. Now is a great time to start flying and get your commercial pilots license.”